Monday, November 29, 2010

When You Can't Make Art... Make Art.

Saturday morning I found myself waking up at the leisurely hour of 10am (not a good sign for a working girl who needs to get up at 6:30am tomorrow morning to go back to work!), and wanting to make a dent in my self-assigned sketches and writing. I brought a Moleskin journal that my friend Jess gave me for Christmas last year, fully determined to fill it with reflections, sketches, poetry... and so far, I have a long list of assignments and lots of blank pages.

For example, I asked myself, to "Write about the food culture in DC." Haven't done that. I asked myself to draw at the National Portrait Gallery (haven't done that either). And my favorite, I asked myself to freewrite for at least 20 minutes about my love for the liberal arts. And I haven't even managed to do that! I have been lazy with the journal and now as I enter my second to last week in this marvelous city, I find myself itching to carry it around everywhere just in case I need to scribble down a moment or write something or both.

And so Saturday, with the cold November sun beaming down on my reddish hair, and my now well worn Peruvian over the shoulder bag slung across my back, I set off for Port City Java, my favorite Eastern Market coffee shop.

I settled down in a corner with a cinnamon scone and a small skim vanilla latte. I pulled out my mechanical pencil and searched for a suitable inanimate thing to draw. The window view was out - too many lines and angles and shading. But the back of the couch in front of me might work nicely! It doesn't move - it has fairly clean lines and I might even look like I'm drawing something semi-realistic.

Alas, no. The sketch lacks vision, clarity and beauty. It is the back of a couch, drawn poorly at that. I get discouraged, and want to throw down my pencil in complete frustration. WHY IN THE WORLD AM I EVEN BOTHERING TO PRETEND I CAN DRAW????

It turns out, the sketching isn't really what the morning is about. To my surprise and delight, across from me and my poor rendition of a back of a couch, sit two boys and their father, munching on bagels and butter and looking very pleased with themselves. I gather from their soggy hair and big grins that they had just been swimming, and smile knowingly at the father as if to say, "Ah, yes, I understand your children and their joy!" The father smiles back, and just as I am turning back to my drawing, the little boy closest to me asks, "What is she doing?"

What indeed. I want to congratulate him on his brilliant question, but his father merely observes, "She's drawing, Malcolm." Well, I think to myself, that's a very kind way of putting it. I would say, she is scribbling furiously in a notebook and attempting to make it look like she is drawing. Malcolm is fascinated by the movement of my pencil and he watches me, his eyes glued to my table. I smile, "Hi there!" I say in my most friendly, I'm good with kids! voice. "Did you just go swimming?" The boys smile shyly, and hide their faces in their fuzzy coats. The dad looks over at me, "Yes, they just finished their swimming lessons at the pool over there." The boys sneak a peek at me from beneath their coat sleeves, their eyes filled with mirth. A few minutes go by, and I go through a frenzy of erasing as my couch starts to look more and more like a couch... potato. I see the boys stand up to leave out of the corner of my eye. But there is a more joyful moment of surprise in store for me at PCJ. 

The youngest, Malcolm, approaches my table and rests his sticky chin on the clean orange surface, inches from my sketchbook. "Well hi there," I say. "What are you drawin?" he asks. There is no guile, no irony, and no mocking in his voice. "I'm drawing that couch right there." I point. His eyes follow my pencil to the green leather and back to my face, alight with curiosity. "Can I see?" I push my sketchbook towards him and suddenly his brother is there as well, his glasses pushed crookedly over his ears as he peers over his younger brother's shoulder to see my drawing. I suddenly have a brilliant idea. "Would you like to draw?" Malcolm nods, looks fleetingly at his father and then nods again. I hand over the pencil and he is off, scribbling furiously and concentrating only on that creamy blank page. His brother wants a turn, and the two of them offer their input into my sketchbook, offer their vision to me, and in one exceptional moment, remind me that when you can't make art... make art. When you can't draw, draw. When you can't sing, belt it out. When you can't play soccer, kick the ball with all your might. 

For what is more joyful, more beautiful, more alive than doing those things you love even if you're bad at them? And what is better than watching the utter joy that your sorry attempts at drawing the back of the couch in front of you brings to another person (or in my case, two very cute little people)? 

Malcolm and his brother are the reason that I will keep drawing. The reason that I will keep singing even if my singing isn't great. The reason I will give my whole heart to the things I love even if I am no longer any good at them... because it is life-giving, it is truest life, and because sticky fingers and laughing eyes are worth more than any special mention in sketching contests. 


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